(by Eli Lake, NYSun.com) WASHINGTON – In the wake of a terrorist attack on the American Embassy in Yemen, a retired FBI agent who investigated the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole is urging America to hold the Yemeni government accountable for letting jihadists out of prison.

“We need to make it clear that the release of people with American blood on their hands is wrong, and they will be held accountable if they continue to do so,” Ali Soufan, who rose to the rank of supervisory special agent in the FBI before retiring from the bureau in 2005, said in an interview.

While Yemen had been out of the headlines until the embassy attack on Wednesday, Mr. Soufan warned as early as last year, in an op-ed article for the Washington Post, that President Saleh’s commitment to fighting Al Qaeda was slipping. The occasion was the pardon last October of Jamal al-Badawi, the alleged mastermind of the USS Cole bombing in the Yemeni port of Aden, which killed 17 sailors. Ultimately, Mr. Soufan said, the way to strengthen Yemen’s resolve in fighting terrorism was through a consistent combination of pressure and partnership.

Yesterday, a group calling itself Islamic Jihad in Yemen claimed responsibility for the embassy attack, and Yemeni authorities arrested 25 suspects who they said were affiliated with Al Qaeda. Islamic Jihad in Yemen is believed to be a spin-off of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the organization that has effectively merged with Al Qaeda and was founded by Osama bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri.

Wednesday’s attack in Sana’a killed 17 people, among them an 18-year-old from Lackawanna, N.Y., who was in Yemen to be married, Susan Elbaneh. Her family told the Associated Press that she was a relative of Jaber Elbaneh, one of the FBI’s most wanted terrorism suspects.

The head of foreign relations for the ruling General People’s Congress Party, Mohammed Abulahoum, told the AP that the attack was a wake-up call for his government. “A hot and cold policy doesn’t work anymore,” he said. “A clear-cut strategy has to be worked out. We are probably looking at the tip of the iceberg with these incidents.”

A counterterrorism official told the Sun that the suspects the Yemeni authorities arrested were probably not the real culprits in the embassy attack. “The Public Security Organization went around Sana’a searching for the usual suspects,” the official said. “They apprehended a bunch of guys with beards.”

The New York Sun reported yesterday that American intelligence officials believe the Yemeni governorates that border Saudi Arabia have emerged as a safe haven for Al Qaeda.

Reprinted here with permission from The New York Sun. Visit the website at NYSun.com.


1. Name the president and capital of Yemen.

2. a) Who is Ali Soufan?
b) What is Mr. Soufan urging the U.S. government to do in the wake of this week’s terrorist attack on the American Embassy in Yemen?

3. What action by Yemen’s president signaled that his commitment to fight al Qaeda was slipping, according to Mr. Soufan?

4. What is Islamic Jihad in Yemen?

5. What is ironic about Susan Elbaneh’s death?

6. Re-read paragraphs 6-8. Then read the bullet points below from a previous NY Sun article on the terrorist attacks in Yemen.

  • One of the tasks of the FBI, which will investigate the attack, will be to determine whether members of Yemen’s armed forces participated in the attack.
  • Elements of Yemen’s security services, which America has trained and subsidized (given millions of dollars to) since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, may indeed have had a hand in yesterday’s bombing.
  • In April, one of the FBI’s most wanted terrorism suspects, Jaber Elbaneh, arrived at a Sana’a courtroom that was hearing the case against another Al Qaeda associate and denounced the court, only to walk free moments later. Court officials refused to arrest and extradite him.
  • President Saleh, for his part, pardoned the mastermind of the 2000 USS Cole bombings in Aden, Jamal al-Badawi, last October after he escaped with Nasir Wahishi (leader of al Qaeda in Iraq) from a high-security prison and then later turned himself in.

How do you think the U.S. should deal with the Yemini government in the wake of this latest attack?


Yemen, located at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, is a poor Muslim country with a weak central government, armed tribal groups in outlying areas, and porous borders, which makes it fertile ground for terrorists. Its government has tried to help the United States after September 11, and the State Department calls Yemen “an important partner in the campaign against terrorism, providing assistance in the military, diplomatic, and financial arenas.” But experts say that terrorists live in Yemen, sometimes with government approval; Yemen-based corporations are thought to help fund Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist network; and Yemenis affiliated with al-Qaeda have targeted U.S. interests in Yemen, including the October 2000 bombing of the navy destroyer U.S.S. Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden. (from cfr.org)

Interesting note: The reputed home of the Queen of Sheba, Yemen has been at the crossroads of Africa, the Middle East and Asia for thousands of years thanks to its position on the ancient spice routes.


For background on Yemen, go to the U.S. State Department website at and the CIA World FactBook.

Read about terrorism in Yemen at cfr.org

View a map of Yemen at WorldAtlas.com.

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